Caldwell will address human rights, nonviolent activism

By Josh Arntz
The Dickson Herald

Published Jan. 15, 2016

A Nashville community organizer and human rights activist with local roots will address the local NAACP chapter Monday evening at the Tennsco Community Center.

Keith Caldwell, executive director of The Urban EpiCenter in Nashville, is keynote speaker for the NAACP Dickson County chapter’s annual Freedom Fund Banquet. The banquet serves as a fundraiser, membership drive, call to action and recognizes local leaders and students, while celebrating Martin Luther King Jr.’s birthday.

Caldwell split time growing up in Nashville’s low-income housing developments and on his father’s farm near McEwen. His family has historical ties to the Judy Branch Road community since shortly after the Civil War, when they were recorded in the US Census.

“That’s what saved my life,” Caldwell said, “getting out of public housing and being in the woods, chopping wood and raising chickens and pigs and cows.”

Caldwell’s experience living and going to school in urban and rural environments – “going back and forth between two extreme living situations” – provided perspective on a multicultural world.

“I learned culturally people really aren’t that different and we have more in common than we do in difference,” Caldwell said, “and how do we navigate our differences in ways that are healthy and continue to improve the community.”

Addressing poverty, opportunity

In addition to his work with The Urban EpiCenter, Caldwell has internships with Gordon Memorial United Methodist Church and Strengthening the Black Church for the 21st Century.

His current projects include a review of affordable housing in Nashville in light of the current gentrification and “booming” development taking over low-income neighborhoods.

Caldwell described “the displacement” when developers “buy up entire blocks” and build $400,000 houses in traditionally low-income neighborhoods.

“Builders from out of state, if they’re getting tax breaks, they need to have a certain amount of housing that respects the workforce,” he said. “If they get tax breaks to develop, certain developments should have a rent ceiling so people from different socio-economic backgrounds are in the same community.”

Caldwell also stressed the importance of job training in low-income neighborhoods, like the zip code area encompassing Gordon Methodist church.

Caldwell noted the “highest economic poverty level in the city” exists in that zip code, where a family of four may earn $22,000 annually.

“Really brutal poverty,” he said.

Caldwell did not blame the employers who pay minimum wage, but championed job training and education to help those workers develop trade skills “to work their way out of poverty.”

‘Building hope, realizing dreams’

The theme for this year’s Freedom Fund Banquet is “Building hope, realizing dreams;” and Caldwell will talk about “pulling” the legacy of civil and human rights “into the present” around nonviolence and “meaningful change.”

Nonviolent activism as “a way of being” compared to a “tactic,” he noted, which involves spirituality and seeing “everyone as a human being.”

“That’s a counter-narrative in the current political landscape,” Caldwell said, “encountering fear in your face and knowing we can and will be better.”

Caldwell recently earned a Master of Divinity from Vanderbilt University and described how most of his work is “grounded in the spiritual narrative of Jesus.”

“When we look at each other, do we see other human beings who deserve to have access to all things human beings need, like employment, quality schools and these things,” he said.

Youth activism, involvement

Local NAACP chapter President Robert “Benny” Overton said Caldwell’s “grassroots level” community activism “impressed me,” and hoped his message will resonate with Dickson County’s younger generations.

“I think he has a connection with the youth that we certainly want to tap, because one of our key drives is to reconnect with the youth in Dickson and engage them in the call,” Overton said. “I thought he’d be excellent for that.”

Overton thanked the community for supporting the local NAACP, and encouraged them to attend Monday’s banquet and “bring their young folks with them as well.”

“Much work to be done and we really need the youth to recognize they have a role in this… so we can continue the journey,” he said. “We invite everyone out and thank everyone for their support in the past.”

Doors open Monday at 5:30 p.m. The event begins at 6 p.m. Sisters Restaurant will serve a catered meal, and the local gospel group WWB will perform.

The event is open to the public, and Caldwell stressed the NAACP welcomes folks of all colors and creeds.

“We’re open to all people and that’s the reason to not get caught up with name,” he said.

Banquet tickets cost $30 for adults, $15 for persons age 14 and younger. Tickets will be sold at the door, or call Herman Grimes at (615) 500-4347 or Renita Thompson at (615) 428-0843 for advance purchases and more information.

According to a press release, The Urban EpiCenter is a multi-racial, grassroots organization dedicated to using community organizing to address racial and economic injustice

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